Secondary School Education in Rural and Regional Australia
The 'elephant in the room' when considering equitable
education provision for rural and regional Australia is cost. However, the
question...should not be "How much does it cost to provide quality
mathematics (or any other) education in rural and regional communities?",
but rather should be "How much does it cost to not provide quality
mathematics (or any other) education in rural and regional communities?".
Secondary schools students in rural and regional Australia face
significant barriers in accessing educational opportunities. Those barriers
include difficulties in attracting and retaining suitably qualified staff,
developing and raising aspirations in relation to further learning and
substantial costs in accessing educational opportunities.
While much of the focus of submissions to this inquiry was on the issue
of access to tertiary education for rural and regional students and the impacts
of the proposed changes to Youth Allowance, the committee did spend
considerable time during the hearings investigating the challenges faced by
secondary students in rural and regional areas.
The committee heard evidence and received submissions of rural and
regional schools achieving excellent academic results. The committee was also
told of many of the initiatives in place to address the inequities faced by
students in rural and regional areas. However, despite the work that is being
done on this issue by governments, by schools, by families and by communities,
the inequity remains and that inequity has impacts on students, on their
families and on their communities.
This chapter of the report starts with an outline of some of the
alternatives for secondary school education for rural and regional students. The
report then moves on to look at the disparities in performance and completion
rates for students at rural and regional secondary schools. It then outlines
some of the challenges that face rural and regional students in accessing
secondary education. The chapter then sets out some of the government measures
in place to assist rural and regional students, and concludes with a discussion
on the adequacy of these measures.
Education alternatives for rural and regional secondary school students
There is a range of options for rural and regional secondary school
students to access education opportunities. In addition to attending local
government or non-government secondary schools, options include:
- distance education, either as a full-time student, or taking
single courses to extend the range offered by the local school.
- living away from home at a larger regional or metropolitan centre
to attend school. This could involve attending boarding school, living in a
hostel, private boarding or the family establishing a second home where the
children live while attending school.
Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages for students,
their families and communities and are discussed below.
Local secondary schools
The committee spent considerable time during the inquiry discussing with
witnesses the challenges and barriers in relation to accessing education
opportunities, particularly in relation to students at local rural and regional
schools. Those issues primarily centred on attracting and retaining suitably
qualified teaching staff, but also included the issue of limited subject choice
and the additional costs faced by families in rural and regional areas to
access educational opportunities. These matters are considered later in this chapter
in the section 'Challenges and barriers in relation to accessing educational
The committee heard from school communities outlining the very positive
aspects of their schools. For example, Manjimup Senior High School Council's
submission to the committee outlined the achievements of that school:
Manjimup Senior High School is situated approximately 
kilometres South West of Perth and is the only Senior High School in the inland
corridor of the Warren Blackwood Education District. It has a current student
population of 670 students...with [a socio-economic index] placing the school in
the second lowest [socio-economic index] band; indicating that students do not
come from an affluent background.
Manjimup Senior High School has attained outstanding results
in Tertiary bound Entrance courses over the past 10 years and has consistently
ranked as the highest achieving Country Public School for students achieving a
scaled score above 75% and for the number of students finishing in the top
third of the state in Secondary [Tertiary Entrance Examination] League Tables.
The committee also heard the positive experiences that teachers have in
teaching in these areas:
I have been a teacher for over 33 years and...a principal for
20 years at schools such as Mullewa District High School, Corrigin District
High School, and Katanning Senior High School. I have now been at Broome Senior
High School for the past six years. During this time I have raised and educated
my family in the country...
I have enjoyed my time teaching in the country but I have had
to work hard at building and supporting a quality workforce in those schools. Students
in rural and remote areas are often much friendlier and more respectful than
their city counterparts and they can achieve results equal to any other
students, given the opportunity and the support to develop pride in themselves
and the encouragement to take responsibility for their own learning. The staff
I have worked with have always been dedicated and competent but they too
require support and understanding of their needs.
However, there are reasons that families may choose not to send their
children to the local secondary school. The Isolated Children's Parents'
Association of Australia's (ICPA) submission stated that not all secondary
schools offer an education that is appropriate to all students' individual
The spectrum of 'appropriate education' can span from the
academically talented (gifted), through English as a Second Language school to
a student with learning difficulties and disabilities. In smaller centres the
education facilities frequently do not have the resources to meet the needs
[of] all their students. Subject choice is often limited to a range which
potentially narrows the student's career choices. Lack of competition,
interaction and learning with class members are all things which leave these
teenagers at a disadvantage when class sizes are small. Some schools do not
have core subjects taught face-to-face with a teacher presenting in the
classroom, and many schools are adversely impacted upon by community social
problems. This creates a very difficult learning environment. In these
circumstances, students either receive an education locally that is not
appropriate, or their families elect to move them away to access a more
appropriate educational facility in another centre.
At the committee's hearing in Tweed Heads, Mr David Cox of the Southern
Cross School told the committee how distance education caters to secondary students
who are isolated by both geography and circumstances. Students isolated by
circumstances include students suffering from a mental illness, students with a
long-term illness such as cancer and students enrolled on behavioural grounds
and vocationally talented students, such as elite sports people, where their
vocation makes it difficult for them to attend school.
Mr Cox also explained to the committee that distance education is used
by full-time students, that is, students who do all their schooling through
distance education, and by students enrolled in a single unit. Mr Cox noted
that where students enrolled only in a single subject, it was generally because
this subject was not available at their local school:
Usually, in some of the smaller high schools, it is where the
curriculum cannot provide for something such as a particular language. We offer
a full range of languages, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese,
Japanese...We also offer subjects which may not readily be available in a
smaller high school or may not have been chosen by certain students. They can
be anything from music, engineering studies, physics and chemistry or any of
the humanities subjects.
...The main ones are extension English and maths. We offer
those too. As I said, some of the smaller high schools and some of the central
schools cannot always offer them. They may have a particularly good student in
one of those subjects and we will support them.
The committee was told of the successes of students through distance
education. Open High School, a Sydney-based specialist language secondary school
providing distance education language programs to students in NSW and the ACT,
set out in its submission the success its students had in the Higher School
Certificate (HSC) Examinations:
In 2008 Open High School entered 622 students in 27 courses
over 10 languages for the Higher School Certificate Examination...
Open High School students achieved 9 Firsts in State and in
14 of the 27 Higher School Certificate courses offered by Open High School 30
students were placed in the top five places in the state. This consisted of 9
1sts, 6 2nds, 4 3rds, 6 4ths and 5 5ths.
In terms of students transitioning from secondary to tertiary studies, Ms
Bronwyn Stubbs, President of the Australasian Association of Distance Education
Schools, informed the committee that the feedback from secondary students is
that distance education provides them with the skills to be successful at
Mr Cox noted that in New South Wales (NSW), distance education students
receive an additional six points towards their university admission score to
assist them to move into tertiary study.
Mr Cox also told the committee that his school has a teacher employed almost
full-time ensuring that students 'go to a reasonable alternative' when they
finish at distance education:
Our biggest failures, I always think, are when we lose
students or when students do not continue their enrolment. So one of the most
important parts of our work is to have somewhere for students to go to. We have
a teacher employed almost full-time to work on transition so that the students
go to a reasonable alternative when they leave us.
Mr John Clark, Principal of the School of Distance Education, Charters
Towers, gave evidence to the committee of the vocational and training courses
that his school offered as a means of giving students the opportunity to stay
in the region:
...we have a strong vocational education and training
component. There are not many secondary high schools that would have a range of
certificate III courses, but we do. We deliver in business, education support,
agriculture and a whole range of issues using partnerships with external
agencies, purely for the reason that quite simply there are many students out
there in the senior secondary pathways who do not want to go down the
traditional boarding schools structure. I understand that that will always be a
very strong highway for those with academic and maybe even different social
aspirations, but there is a core group who wishes to stay in the areas. For
them to get appropriate education past senior secondary, or even relevant
senior secondary, is a challenge.
The committee also explored the impact that improved communication
technology has had on distance education. Open High School outlined in its
submission the introduction and possible impact of the 'Connected Classrooms
program' in NSW:
Commencing 2007 NSW [Department of Education and Training]
initiated its Connected Classrooms program to provide students in all public
(metropolitan and rural / primary and secondary) schools with greater access to
curriculum and opportunities to collaborate with fellow students in other localities
through the use of interactive whiteboards, video conferencing and use of collaboration
This initiative is expected to reduce existing reliance on
the traditional distance education model which at times has been unable to
provide the kind of collaborative tools that engage students in their learning
more successfully. Distance education schools in NSW were included in the first
stage rollout of the interactive technologies of the Connected Classrooms
Program and have played a leading role in the development of related online learning
management systems, video conferencing and other interactive technologies such
as collaborative desktop sharing to support rural and regional students in
Ms Stubbs noted that technology was changing the role of the teacher in
It then raises the question: if the content is there, what is
the role of the teacher? That is another one of the questions we ask, because I
think there is very much a changing role for teachers about motivating students
and providing them with the independent learning skills to be able to access
and utilise what they can get online. It is about teaching them organisational
skills. It is about all of those issues that enable students to access
education full stop. That is the underpinning issue for low [socio-economic
status (SES)] students, because frequently they are not bringing those skills
to their education at the start. They are behind the eight ball in the skills
required for learning. Even being able to sit and engage with a topic can be
problematic for a child who has not been brought up to read a book or whatever.
So it is about developing what I suppose you would call 21st century skills.
They are skills that we have gained because we are in a different world. We did
not have the technology in the past. We were forced to sit. We could not just
skip backwards and forwards between things. There are a whole range of issues
around parenting that gave many middle-class and upper-class students the
skills to be able to access education, whereas it has consistently been an
issue for low SES students. I think it is the internet access but also the
ability to access education because of those underpinning skills.
Submissions to the inquiry also noted the disadvantages of distance
education. In her submission, Ms Narelle Whittaker stated that had her children
remained at the local high school for secondary education they would have been
required to undertake several subjects through distance education. According to
Ms Whittaker, her family felt that 'this does not substitute satisfactorily for
a qualified teacher face to face in front of a class'. 
One submitter noted that distance education was not a suitable method of
learning for all students:
...for the vast majority this is not an acceptable method of teaching
and is very isolating and requires a huge amount of self discipline and
motivation beyond their age and experience. For those choosing education of
this sort there is need for more mentoring for the student and the supervisor,
especially during secondary education.
Mr Cox also told for the committee that distance education is expensive
and resource intensive:
...it is quite expensive when you consider the cost of
educating a student through distance education. For a student to do secondary
schooling up to year 10 in a school, it is around $8,400; for a distance
education student it is about $17,000. So it is more expensive, and the
staffing ratio is much better. High schools are staffed at a ratio of one to 14
- one teacher to 14 students. In distance education centres it is about one to
seven. So it is quite expensive and labour intensive.
The Western Australian Catholic Education Office told the committee that
in Western Australia, access to distance education for non-government school
students could be expensive:
For a student in year 12 to study a subject – such as
Chemistry – through [distance education], the cost is about $2,200. For 4
students in a school the cost is therefore $8,800. Most Catholic schools charge
less than $2,200 for an entire year's fees and the costs for [distance
education] are therefore not affordable.
In its supplementary submission the Queensland Council of Parents and
Citizens' Association described distance education as an option for 'dedicated'
students and noted that there are often logistical and staffing difficulties at
the school level, such as provision of learning space, access to technology and
Leaving home to attend school
Primarily, submissions and evidence that the committee received in
relation to secondary school students leaving home to access educational
opportunities related to students attending boarding schools, as opposed to
students moving to hostels associated with secondary schools or families
establishing a second home near a secondary school that suits the needs of the
The Independent Schools Council of Australia noted that while families
were often reluctant to send their children to boarding school, '92 per cent of
them would still choose boarding if making the decision again'.
The submission of the Independent Schools Council of Australia went on to
outline some of the benefits that families found in boarding schools:
The vast majority believe boarding leads to a well-rounded,
balanced person. They believe this is due to living in a more structured and
disciplined environment, and from having a sense of belonging within a
community. Most parents also believe that boarding helps teach children to be
independent, self-reliant, tolerant and compassionate.
Where parents have a choice of school, the school's values
play a significant role in their decision. A school's academic credentials may
figure prominently, however parents attach equal importance to both the
management and leadership of the boarding house, and the relative importance of
both boarders and the boarding house within the wider school community.
They also look for tangible measures of a school's
commitment, including academic support provided to boarders during study time,
full-time boarding house staff, access to facilities, and after hours
activities and events.
The ICPA's submission highlighted the negative impacts that moving away
from home to pursue educational opportunities can have on students and their
The negative emotional impacts endured by rural and regional
students and families in the situation of a student needing to relocate to
pursue their education, must also be recognised. Usually the decision to send a
child away to obtain an appropriate education is made reluctantly, and finally
decided upon when all other options prove to be unsuitable for the child's
needs. Not being able to be with your child to guide and support them as they
assimilate and meet the challenges of living within a very different school
community, can be very distressing for the whole family. The extent of the
financial and emotional strain associated with the process of separation can
sometimes culminate in health issues for all concerned, and/or poor academic
and sporting performances for the student.
The committee also received some evidence about the impact that students
moving away from home to attend school has on rural and regional communities. For
example, the North Burnett Regional Council in Queensland made the following
observation about the impacts on the community of students moving away to
pursue secondary education:
The exodus of students to boarding school...creates a
significant hiatus in the community. Student and youth leaders are essentially
lost to other communities (regional or metropolitan centres) and their social
interaction change focus to those new communities. They become visitors in
their home town during school holidays and often do not return to the community
post secondary and/or tertiary study.
The committee was told that students and their families were now looking
at alternatives to boarding schools because of the prohibitive costs,
particularly non-government boarding schools in metropolitan areas. Dr Peter
Havel, Principal of Albany Senior High School, indicated that families were now
sending their children to his school, and utilising the hostel in Albany,
because it is a cheaper option than 'sending them to Perth to some of the elite
However, for students in New South Wales, there are only limited hostel
places as the Bush Children's Education Foundation of NSW (BCEF) explained in
...the system has been in terminal decline possibly due to
rural decline occasioned by drought and changed farming practices. Towns where
hostels have operated include Tibbooburra, Walgett, Bourke, Cobar, Forbes,
Broken Hill...The two remaining hostels at Broken Hill and Dubbo are full to
capacity in 2009.
The NSW Farmers' Association noted that where boarding schools are not a
financial option a family may establish a second home closer to the school and
students then live there part-time:
Particular reasons for second house establishment sometimes
focus on access to a broader and face-to-face senior secondary curriculum [generally]
to a school which had the subject range and support that the student needs for
performance and completion rates for rural and regional secondary schools
As outlined in paragraph 2.8, the committee heard from schools where
students were achieving excellent academic results. Despite these positive
examples, the committee was also told that the academic performance of students
tends to decrease with increasing distance from metropolitan centres. At the
hearing in Tweed Heads, Professor John Pegg of the National Centre of Science,
Information and Communications Technology, and Mathematics Education for Rural
and Regional Australia (SiMERR), talked the committee through comparative test
data on numeracy benchmarks for students in years 3, 5 and 7:
The states and the federal government have established
benchmarks at years 3, 5 and 7 and they want percentages of children to be
above those benchmarks. When you look at the breakdown - metropolitan,
provincial, remote, very remote - from 2003 to 2007 you notice a couple of
things. As you move further and further away from metropolitan areas in
Australia the numbers of kids reaching benchmarks decreases - and I must say
that the benchmarks are pretty piddly, to be polite about it. If you take the
worst-case scenario - very remote schools - that means that about 30 per cent
of children are not hitting these very minimal benchmarks in year 3.
In terms of these differences in academic performance, the SiMERR
National Survey made the following observation in relation to student
achievement in science and mathematics:
The significant variations in the academic achievement of
students in different parts of Australia may not be a recent phenomenon.
Nevertheless, evidence of the variation has emerged in recent decades.
The SiMERR National Survey also notes that there are growing indications
that education in rural and remote areas of Australia has begun to receive more
attention in recent years. In addition, there appears to be a renewed
recognition of the valuable economic and social contributions made by rural
communities to the national output and wellbeing.
However, it is not only in academic performance where students at rural
and regional schools can be disadvantaged. In 2000, HREOC found that country
students were less likely to finish school than their metropolitan
More recent studies of retention rates of students in Victoria have found that
this trend continues:
Evidence shows that higher numbers of young people drop out
of school prior to completing Year 12 in the rural areas in comparison to
metropolitan. Based on 2008 figures there is a 11.1% difference in the retention
rates of grade 10 to grade 12 students between metropolitan and
non-metropolitan schools, being 83.3% vs. 72.2% respectively.
In August 2008, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister highlighted
the importance of school completion:
There is a well-established link between Year 12 completion
and post-school achievement. Access Economics estimates that young people who
leave school before Year 12 are approximately six times more likely to make a
poor transition to post-school activities than those who complete senior
Evidence across [Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and
Development (OECD)] nations demonstrates that completion of senior schooling,
or its vocational equivalent, is a key factor influencing future economic
opportunities and engagement in life long learning. In Australia the incidence
of unemployment among 20–24 year olds who have not completed upper secondary
education or its equivalent is more than double for those who have.
Early school leaving can also be correlated with significant
personal and social costs, increased potential contact with the health and
criminal justice systems, and intergenerational disadvantage.
The committee heard that these disparities in academic outcomes and
completion rates are a result of a number of factors. As Ms Kimberlee Ryan of
the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development explained
to the committee:
...rural schools can offer students a range of advantages,
including more individualised attention, cooperative learning opportunities,
close relationships with teachers and peers and strong ties with the local
community. While the educational outcomes of rural students are lower than
those of their urban counterparts, particularly for Indigenous students, this
is due to a range of factors, including socioeconomic status, and does not
imply that the learning outcomes in some rural schools are inadequate.
Challenges and barriers in relation to accessing
The committee spent considerable time during the course of the inquiry
discussing with witnesses the challenges and barriers to students in rural and
regional areas accessing educational opportunities at a secondary school level.
Predominantly the issues which arose related to attracting and retaining
suitably qualified teachers. The next section of the report contains a
discussion of the issues in relation to attracting and retaining teachers in
rural and regional areas. Other issues that were raised with the committee included
the need to raise students' aspirations to further study and the costs involved
for students to access educational opportunities.
Attracting suitably qualified
teachers to rural and regional areas
The committee heard a substantial amount of evidence relating to the
difficulties in attracting suitably qualified teachers to regional, rural and
remote areas and the impacts that this had on the educational opportunities for
students in those areas.
Incentives and initiatives to
encourage teachers to relocate to rural and regional areas
The committee heard that financial and other incentives are often put in
place to encourage teachers to take on rural or regional teaching placements.
For example, Mr Gary Francis of the Queensland Department of Education and
...we have the Remote Area Incentive Scheme, which provides a
range of additional benefits to people who do work in rural and remote schools
- ...The financial [incentives] are provided through the Remote Area Incentive
Scheme. Opportunities for promotion come by going into those locations. We
certainly do actively market that as to a young motivated teacher.
Mrs Helen Walton of the Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations
of New South Wales spoke of some of the other types of incentives that could be
offered to teachers:
One of the big pushes that we have always had is around
providing things like low-rent housing, because in some communities there
really is no accommodation, particularly in the really isolated communities
where, as I said, the school may be the primary employer. The township is not
that large. With things such as that, there have been incentives in some areas
to have additional holidays so that teachers can get back and visit their
families, because historically a lot of staff have families on the east coast.
If you move further west, particularly into far western New South Wales, it is
a long way from there to wherever your family is - 1,200 kilometres or so. So
there are additional periods when they can go back to visit their family. There
has been some financial assistance to these people to encourage them to move
Witnesses representing state governments explained to the committee some
of the other strategies that they had put in place to attract teachers to rural
and regional areas. For example, Mr Colin Pettit of the Western Australian
Department of Education and Training, explained that state had sought to
attract teachers from overseas to fill vacancies:
In 2007 we were some 250 teachers short across the year. That
translated into 200-plus short in country locations. Of those, significant
numbers, greater than 50 per cent, were secondary. So we do have an issue about
attracting people to the country, particularly secondary teachers and
well-qualified secondary teachers. We commenced an international search in
countries such as Scotland, Ireland, England, Canada and South Africa. At the
beginning of this year approximately 80 came in under 457 visas and others to
fill vacancies that we knew we had specifically for the country. Most of those
have been very successful...That is one strategy that we have used...
That was tagged and targeted to secondary education,
particularly around science and mathematics. Some very experienced teachers put
their hands up to come across and we were very happy with that. It still did
not help the full picture, so to support that we have also had fairly strong
recruitment advertising on TV over the last six weeks, which the marketing
people tell me is starting to have an effect. Time will tell, though, next year
when people want to actually go. We also have other programs such as the Remote
Teaching Service, where we pay significantly more for teachers to go to
particular locations. We also have a Country Teaching Program and a
Metropolitan Teaching Program - and they are predominantly tagged for secondary
at this stage...where we pay significantly more for teachers to go to various
locations. That has had some success, but the extra money and the conditions
are not always what people are looking for to attract them to certain
locations, so we are still looking at how else we can deal with that...
A representative from the Queensland Department of Education and
Training told the committee that state had been working on strategies to raise
awareness among Year 11 and 12 students of the career opportunities of working
as a teacher. The Queensland Department of Education and Training has also been
working on improving the transfer teachers by setting regional targets for
transfers internally and for bringing new people into regional areas.
Retaining teachers in rural and
However, the committee heard it is not just a matter of attracting
teachers to rural and regional locations, but also retaining them in those
areas for more than a couple of years. Professor John Pegg of the SiMERR
National Centre gave the committee the following example of the impact that
continual turnover of staff could have on a school, particularly in a very
We have this program called QuickSmart which we have again
developed through the national centre. In 30 weeks children can grow two to
four years in literacy or numeracy. We went into an Indigenous school in the
Northern Territory that had never had a child above the benchmark. They put 19
kids on the program. At the end of the program, 18 were above the benchmark and
one missed out on the benchmark by one mark.
...Everybody was so excited. Then we went back the next year to
see how it was going and found the program was not being offered in the school.
When I asked why, it was because every teacher, including the principal and
deputy, had transferred out. So the whole staff had left and a brand new
principal and staff had come in...We know that in these areas it takes over a
year for teachers to come to grips with the issues of working in that area.
Professor John Pegg indicated that a period of five years was ideal in
terms of a teacher remaining at a rural location and seeing an improvement in
Somewhere around five years in the game - and it might be
true in a lot of professions - it starts to show and you bring this additional
experience and know-how to the situation. What happens in rural areas is that
we have teachers for one, two or three years. If you think about it, what
organisation in the world could survive where you keep turning over people
every couple of years? The parliament would not work; nothing would work if you
did not have a corporate memory following on and support people. Yet in rural
schools it gets tolerated that people are there for just a couple of years. We
have to be careful because, if we said that we do not have young teachers, then
we would not have teachers at all. There is a lot of effort going on that but
you have to appreciate that in the first year of teaching it is about thinking
about yourself as a teacher, about your class, about discipline, about trying
to come to grips with things. You know the subject area but how you are going
to transmit that.
The committee discussed with witnesses whether a system of 'bonding'
teachers to rural and regional areas, that is, where teachers commit to serving
a particular period in a rural or regional area and in return receive a reward,
such as payment of university fees, or preferential relocation to an area of their
choice when their term expires. The committee notes the concern that Mr Robert
Fry, President, Western Australian Council of State School Organisations,
raised in terms of 'bonding' teachers to a placement for five years:
...it would certainly have an effect. But it could have a
detrimental one, too, because one of the challenges is getting them here in the
first place. For a person who is 22 years of age or whatever, five years seems
a heck of a long time in their life...But it is a psychological thing. I think
the problem would be that some people would be a little bit averse or scared of
entering into what effectively becomes a five-year contract. But it would have
To this end, Mr Fry noted the impact of previous policies of compulsory
rural placements had been a 'mass exodus' at the end of two years:
You used to hear conversations with teachers saying, 'I've
only got six months to go.' They were counting it down. I think that is so
negative and it is negative for the kids too. Some were quite open about it in
saying, 'I've only got six months to survive in this place now and then I’m out
of here.' I do not think that is what it is about. When you move to the place
you are taking it on as your home for whatever period of the time that might be
but to put time lines around it from the beginning does generate some risks and
Professor John Pegg of the SiMERR National Centre spoke to the committee
about the factors which attracted teachers to non-metropolitan areas are not
necessarily the factors which kept them at the school:
...the incentives that got teachers into rural areas were not
the same ones that keep them there. What got teachers to go to rural areas was
money, lower class sizes and promotion opportunities, but what kept them there
was their love of the community, their involvement in the community and their
sense of place in the community...
The committee spoke with some witnesses about the role of local
governments and other community organisations in retaining teachers in rural and
regional areas. Mr Colin Pettit of the Western Australian Department of Education
and Training stated that his department worked with a range of agencies:
For example, the Wheatbelt Development Commission is
extremely proactive in working with us to try and establish a 'welcome to the
bush' approach. They have been very good at trying to get their communities on
song to welcome not only teachers but also nurses and police and the like. They
have been working pretty closely with us for the last two or three years.
Professor Pegg also informed the committee about one of the 'sobering'
reasons which caused teachers to leave rural communities:
The other thing we found out - and I found this one of the
most sobering things, which I tend not to share very often - was to do with the
reasons why people leave rural areas. One is that their spouse has got
employment somewhere else. That is acceptable. That happens everywhere. But the
next reason, which was very, very close - almost identical - statistically was
that teachers left rural areas because of their concerns about their own
children's education. I do not know how that strikes you, but here are people
who have gone out to live in rural areas and yet they are leaving because of
their concern. They are actually fighting the good fight out there and doing
the right thing and yet they are leaving because [of their] concerns about
their own children.
The committee notes the evidence of Mrs Helen Walton of the Federation
of Parents and Citizens' Association that this experience is not limited to
What we are finding in some of our regions and what is being
reported to us is that there is [a] turnover of professional staff in many
areas, particularly in health. That is one area where people do come out for a
few years and then say, 'I've done my years now; I'm going back to the city.'
Some families are sending their children off to boarding school. The parents
are saying, 'My child wants to be a doctor, the same as I am, but can't choose
the subjects within the curriculum of the area that I am in because the school
does not offer a wide enough range of subjects within the curriculum because
there are not enough students to access it.'
The committee notes the evidence it has received that highlights the
importance of a sense of community can play in retaining teachers in an area.
To this end, the committee is troubled by the evidence it has heard in relation
to the turnover of teachers, and other professionals, in rural and regional
areas because of concerns that those families have about the education of their
As was described by Professor John Pegg in relation to the Quicksmart
program, this turnover can impact significantly on the academic performance of
students at a school – within the period of a year a promising program
addressing literacy and numeracy issues is lost to the school because no
teachers remain to continue the program.
With the turnover of other professionals in an area, this impact
spreads, not only through the education sector, but through health and business
Providing support to teachers
One important factor for teachers in rural and regional areas is the
provision of support and professional connectedness to other teachers. For
example Ms Kimberlee Ryan of the Victorian Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development noted to the committee that one of the reasons that
teachers may be reluctant to take up positions in rural areas is a perception
of isolation and having fewer colleagues with which to interact.
In this context, the committee also notes the comments of Mr Frank
Italiano of the Western Australian Catholic Education Office in relation to
providing teachers not only with financial incentives to teach in rural areas,
but also support and mentoring:
The mentoring of those teachers in those schools once they go
to those areas is really important. If you are isolated and lacking the
opportunity to obtain materials and information from others, that makes your
job a little bit harder so the chances of you staying on would be lower.
The committee notes the work that the Western Australian Catholic
Edcuation Office is doing to address this concern:
...new graduates and new teachers in those schools...they are
encouraged to join associations. For example, if you are teaching history or
English you would try to join the teacher association where that provides you
with networking opportunities, professional development through the year,
courses that are available through the year.
The committee also heard from witnesses describing the difficulty for
teachers in rural areas to access professional development opportunities.
The committee also notes the evidence of Professor John Pegg of the
SiMERR National Centre of other factors that may make teaching in rural schools
more challenging for teachers, such as teaching outside their subject areas and
teaching composite Year 11 and 12 classes.
The SiMERR National Survey made a number of recommendations in relation
to the provision of support for rural teachers, including:
- That state and territory education systems sponsor the
establishment of a professional Association of Rural Educators.
- The establishment of a Rural School Leadership Program, by
education authorities in collaboration with universities and professional
organisations. The program would target teachers with significant leadership
- The establishment of a Centre of Excellence in rural and regional
pre-service teacher education at universities in each state and territory.
- That education authorities, in collaboration with professional
organisations, develop and monitor induction and orientation strategies to
support the particular needs of teachers new to rural and regional schools.
The committee discussed with a number of witnesses a possible role for
teachers who are retired, or nearly retired, to return to teaching in rural and
regional areas. Mr Pettit of the Western Australian Department of Education and
Training explained to the committee that such a program already exists in that
...in the Murchison we are running a trial that is now in its
second year where we have retired teachers going into classrooms, dealing
specifically with literacy and numeracy right through to year 10. They are
retired teachers who have been longserving, good quality teachers. They go in
for two weeks at a time. They come out for two weeks and then they go back in
for two weeks, but they work side by side with the teachers. We have found that
that has been a very positive program and we are looking at expanding that into
...We do have a flying squad - principals, deputies and
teachers - and where we have short-term vacancies occur, for whatever reason -
up to, say, a term - these people are prepared to go to any location for a term
and be very supportive. They are all retirees and their expertise and
experience are just invaluable in those communities. So we do use them on a
regular basis right across the state.
Mr Robert Fry, President of the Western Australian Council of State
School Organisations, highlighted for the committee the importance of having a
'good balance' of teachers:
Graduates are great - they usually come with a lot of
enthusiasm - but lack experience. That is why you need to have your experienced
teachers working beside them, and that is something that I know a lot of rural
and remote teachers struggle with. When they get out into the field on their
first assignment, there is a lack of support around them. That support can be
the other teachers with the experience to help them through. It is a
challenging one, but some sort of bonding arrangement may work. But I think it
may be something that works better with a more mature person than with younger
Developing and raising aspirations
An significant barrier to students pursuing educational opportunities
can be a lack of aspiration within the community. For example, Mr Garry
Costello of The South Australian Department of Education and Children's
Services explained to the committee the impact of low aspirations in relation
to the area of Mount Gambier:
the tertiary educational rates are significantly lower here.
I think the quote was about six per cent compared to something like 20 per
cent. We know that that is a very significant factor in determining the
aspirations that the students in this area have for their tertiary education.
As the principal of a large school, my concern has always been with our most
disadvantaged young people. Particularly if no-one in the family has had a
tertiary education, we really need to incentivise ways of getting people who
have the talent. I look at my own children and I know that some of their
friends have as great a talent or ability to go on but they have not done so
because there was not that kind of social capital in the family and not that
understanding that you need to make the sacrifices longer term for your
children to have those kinds of benefits.
The committee spent considerable time discussing with witnesses the role
of aspirations in a student's desire to continue to further education, and how
those aspirations could be raised.
Many witnesses highlighted to the committee the importance of family and
community aspirations and an individual student's aspirations in relation to
further education. For example, Mr Joe Piper, a member of TAFE Directors
Australia, told the committee:
The aspirations of a community, or those young people in a
community, are often linked to the experiences in their own home. In the 2006
census for the Barwon region, which covers from Geelong in Victoria all way
through to the South Australian border, 45 per cent of 44- to 64- year-olds
were found to have no formal qualifications post secondary school, and many of
those did not do year 12. It is 30 per cent for 20- to 44-year-olds...often young
people will suffer, through a lack of aspiration to go on to tertiary
education, because they have no guidance. They have no mentors in their homes.
Witnesses noted the importance of tertiary education providers engaging
with secondary school students as a means of developing and raising aspirations.
Submitters provided the committee with examples of how tertiary providers are
engaging with secondary students. For example, Newcastle University outlined in
its submission how it has invested in outreach programs which have proven to be
valuable in assisting students, particularly those from regional and rural
areas, to build aspiration, to realise their potential for higher education and
to understand the opportunities provided by tertiary study. Programs included:
- Higher School Certificate Study Days in Newcastle and the Central
Coast to assist Year 12 students with their Higher School Certificate studies.
- A residential summer school, the Year 9 Girls + Maths + Science =
Choices Summer School. This initiative targets female year 9 indigenous and
non-indigenous students from equity target groups such as students from
regional and rural areas, low socio-economic status and non-English speaking
backgrounds and/ or students with a disability.
- UniLink which helps to address the Hunter region's growing youth
unemployment problem by encouraging more local school students to complete Year
12 and then consider further education.
the SMART (Science, Maths, And Real Technology) program which in
August conducted science shows in nine remote Arnhem Land communities. The
program provides resources for teachers, including a workshop discussing ideas
about science and technology in the classroom. SMART reaches around 20,000
people across Australia each year. It is a partnership between the University
of Newcastle's Faculty of Science and Information Technology, the Australian
Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Engineers
Australia and the Arnhem Land Progress Association.
RMIT University in Melbourne outlined how its role as a dual sector
university is important in engaging secondary students:
At RMIT we are, of course, a dual sector university, rather
like Victoria University, but we also have within our [technical and further
education college (TAFE)] component quite a significant [vocational education
and training] and [Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning] group of
students, about 500 students - so we have the equivalent, if you like, of a
reasonably large high school among our university population. It would seem to
me that initiatives like that are perhaps one way of bringing to students'
attention the transformative nature of education if that is in fact something
with which they wish to engage. That of course applies not only to regional and
rural students but also to metropolitan, urban, students. Given that we are a
dual sector university, we do have in place pathways for students from VET
courses into higher [education] courses.
Professor Lin Crase, Executive Director of the Albury-Wodonga Campus of
La Trobe University, outlined how as part of this engagement it is important to
provide students with 'real-life' examples, which can be difficult in rural and
...the formulation of those aspirations appears to happen very
early, and part of the challenge with regional communities is that often they
are of such a size that it is actually quite difficult to provide real-life
examples for some of those students in small communities about what success
looks like. So regrettably we see enrolments that chase TV shows. We see people
queuing up to do forensic psychology because of some TV show because that is
the only thing they can relate to. In real life communities we do not have a
forensic psychologist that we could trot out and look at and see what they
actually do versus what they do on television. In a regional context those
challenges are even greater because we often do not have the role models close
at hand in small communities of a thousand people to demonstrate the benefits
of education. At the end of the day we simply try to emphasise to people that
those who have degrees on average earn about a million dollars more over their
lifetime, ostensibly are healthier, ostensibly are happier - you can record
happiness in that context. So we can emphasise that to people, but they do need
to see real-life examples that they can attach to at a very young age and that
is quite difficult.
The committee also notes the observation of Mrs Helen Walton of the
Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations in NSW that TAFEs have had a
better profile and link with secondary schools, and universities are now
beginning to realise the importance of this engagement:
I think some of the universities are actually recognising
that they do need to go into areas and perhaps be a little bit more proactive
in linking in with the high schools and possibly the TAFEs, just to offer more
of a range. Also, to give kids the opportunity to recognise that, as I said, in
some communities the link between TAFE and high school often means that kids
say, 'Oh yes, well, I’m going to TAFE after I’ve finished school,' whereas I
think universities are now going, 'Maybe we need to have a profile in those
schools as well for kids to maybe have a look at the opportunities they have
got to link with us as well.' But, as I said, the experience that we have had
is probably the stronger link between TAFE and high schools and it is only now
they are starting to get that external university movement into the high
The committee also received evidence in relation to tertiary
institutions engaging with secondary school students and providing them with an
alternate pathway to university as a means of raising aspirations. For example,
Mr Chris Jones of Great Southern TAFE told the committee of a pilot program
that his institution had been running with students at Katanning Senior High
...we have looked at the poor progression of students to
[Tertiary Entrance Examinations] - that is matriculation...- and we have worked
with schools to provide an alternative entry pathway that combines a
certificate IV in [vocational education and training] with a Western Australian
Certificate of Education, and that meets the minimum entrance requirement for
several universities in Western Australia.
I think it is really important to acknowledge that it is no
good sending someone to university who has no aspirations to go there in the
first place. The students have already said, 'We want to go to university.'
What has happened is that at the end of first semester they start to think,
'Maybe I am not going to get to university this way,' or they persevere and
perhaps do not do as well as they should. So with Katanning Senior High School
we have put together a combined program between TAFE and the high school.
Students attend school for 50 per cent of the time and TAFE for 50 per cent of
the time. While they are at TAFE, they do a certificate III or a certificate IV
VET qualification. This gets into the area of management of VET in Schools.
But, prior to this pilot, nobody would do a certificate III or a certificate IV
qualification while they were at school. They would have to leave school to do
that because the time constraint was too great. We have combined the two, with
the support of the high school, the TAFE and the parents.
...there are universities that accept as a minimum entry
requirement, other than the [Tertiary Entrance Examination], a certificate IV
and a...Western Australian Certificate of Education. The certificate IV
contributes 50 per cent towards the Western Australian Certificate of
Education. The students are coming out of their three years at high school with
a certificate III or a certificate IV VET qualification. At Katanning it is a
certificate IV in information technology. They also have their [Western
Australian Certificate of Education], which means that they have had some
academic rigour on the way through, particularly in English, which we think is
important. They have also met the minimum entry requirements of university.
Some witnesses also highlighted that aspirations could be increased by
virtue of the physical presence of a university in the town. For example Mr
Paul Barnett, of the University of Tasmania outlined the impact that the
opening of the Cradle Coast campus of that institution had on aspirations in
...we established the Cradle Coast campus maybe 10 years ago.
Over that period, the number of students on the campus has grown from about 140
full-time students to over 400 full-time students. The other impact of that - and I think it reinforces the point about establishing aspirations in that
community - is that, on top of the enrolments at the Cradle Coast campus, we
have also virtually doubled the number of students from that region who are now
studying at other campuses of the university. In 2000, there were about 1,000
students from that region studying at Launceston or Hobart, but now we have
almost 2,000 students in that situation. A number of those students developed
their initial confidence through doing their first year at the Cradle Coast
campus and then they moved on. I think just our being involved in the community
has increased the aspirations in that area.
Mrs Elizabeth McGregor, a member of TAFE Directors Australia, also noted
that cultural factors can be very important in forming aspirations. Mrs
McGregor described for the committee the 'Deadly Days' festival which were
being used as a means of engaging Indigenous students in vocational education:
Today I was at a federally funded festival called Deadly
Days, which is the culmination of a range of programs that we have been running
for young Aboriginal people to help them stay at school and get involved in
vocational education while they are at school to ensure that they have
aspirations, which is the key element to success. For Aboriginal people that is
intimately connected to identity...
My point is that, in working particularly with Aboriginal
communities, that other stuff around identity and how you build aspirations -
if you accept that, and international research indicates that as well as people
having options they have to have a belief that they have a right to education -
has to connect to their sense of themselves and then they are right as they are
on a pathway.
Developing and raising the aspirations of students is of critical
importance to setting them on the path to lifelong learning. As is the case
with attracting and retaining teachers, this is a matter which needs to be
addressed not just at the level of the school, but at the level of the family
and the community.
The committee is impressed at the innovative and progressive solutions
that are being found to raise the aspirations of students in rural and regional
areas. However, the committee notes that the current approach lacks a
coordinated and cohesive structure, with secondary schools being reliant on
whatever outreach program they may be able to access from a tertiary
The committee received some evidence about the costs associated with
accessing secondary educational opportunities for rural and regional students.
However, as most submissions focussed on the costs of tertiary education for
rural and regional students, the committee will only cover this issue briefly.
A number of submissions commented on direct costs, in particular, in
relation to boarding schools.
The Isolated Children's Parents Association of Queensland also commented on
additional costs for students and their families associated with boarding
...limited family attendance at school events due to the high
cost of travel and the inability for both parents to be absent from the family
business at any one time...Attendance at parent organisation meetings,
information evenings and parent-teacher interviews is most difficult.
It is helpful financially if it is possible to rely on other
family members for accommodation when attending school functions.
However, there are additional costs that students and their families may
face, even if they remain living at home and studying at a local school or by
distance education. For example, the Open High School highlighted that few of
its rural and regional students travel to Sydney for tutorials and study days,
because of the cost:
The majority of students in rural and regional areas are
unable to travel to Sydney as the travel and accommodation costs are
prohibitive with many parents not able to take time off work. A small number of
families do travel long distances to Sydney and incur travel and accommodation
expenses. These costs are not reimbursed by the school. The school has a
Student Assistance fund which is used to support families experiencing
financial hardship with fees and textbooks. The use of the fund does not extend
to subsidising travel and accommodation costs.
The committee heard from submitters and witnesses about other concerns
they had in relation to the access of educational opportunities for secondary
students in rural and regional areas.
Submissions highlighted the limited educational opportunities that might
be available in rural areas in terms of the curriculum on offer, due to either
difficulties in getting qualified teachers, or there being a limited number of
students wanting to study a subject. For example, Mrs Wendy Sawyer wrote to the
committee of her family's experiences:
The numbers are so small in years 8 to 10 that the local
school offers only the basic curriculum and we believe our boys, all being
fairly academic, would benefit from a wider subject choice and continuity of
teaching staff and consistency in discipline, which we believe were not
Ms Debbie Irwin, who has been a teacher for 30 years, wrote in her
submission of how she recently became aware of the disadvantages faced by
students in country NSW:
I moved to Westport High School on the North Coast at the end
of 2007. The reduction in educational opportunities is astounding. No access to
HSC revision lectures and courses, reduced access to HSC marking for teachers,
minimal access to universities for extension activities such as Siemens Science
Experience, Astronomy Lectures, Nyholm Youth Lectures etc and massively
increased costs and time required to attend museums, galleries, conferences and
courses to name a few.
The committee notes some of the innovative measures that are being
undertaken to expand the curriculum in rural and regional areas. For example,
the committee was told of the work of Murdoch University which is working with
five high schools to provide higher maths courses:
In our Rockingham region we are working very closely with
five senior high schools...the five high schools came to us and said, 'Can you
do hard maths at university?' The five high schools could not get a cohort to
teach 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D maths in year 11 and 12. We said, 'Yes, we can.' So now
the five high schools have their maths program delivered from our Rockingham
campus. That serves 13 students in five senior high schools.
Mr David Cox, Deputy Principal, of the Southern Cross School explained
to the committee that one factor which he felt was often missing at rural and
regional schools is an element of competition between students:
I taught at Nyngan in central New South Wales when I was
first promoted as a social science head teacher. I taught some very intelligent
students there. I was very aware that they do not know how good really good is
- in some of those schools who have teachers who are really enthusiastic. They
still do not know how bright the really bright students are. I am not saying
they do not work hard to get the best out of them, but it is hard to compare.
One of the things that works in schools, if you are an intelligent student, is
to have intelligent students around who push you. If there is not that
competition quite honestly you do not always get the best out of students.
The committee was also told of students travelling great distances to
school each day. For example, the Tasmanian Principals Association noted that
students from Dover, south of Hobart, are travelling into Hobart for school
each day, a journey requiring that they leave home at 7am and did not return
home until 5pm. In addition, this trip costs students $18 per day.
Indigenous Secondary Students
The committee was provided with some information in submissions
regarding issues in relation to secondary education opportunities for
Indigenous students. The committee also sought further information from
witnesses at the hearings in relation to this matter. This section of the
report gives an overview of some of the issues raised with the committee. The
committee does not intend this as a comprehensive analysis of secondary
education opportunities for Indigenous students. Further, the committee also
recognises the work of the Senate’s Select Committee on Regional and Remote
Indigenous Communities (Select Committee). The Select Committee is inquiring
into, amongst other things, the impact of the Australian Government’s Emergency
Response, and specifically on the state of health, education, welfare and law
on regional and remote indigenous communities.
The committee heard from a number of witnesses in different states in
relation to the participation of Indigenous students in secondary education and
programs in place to assist Indigenous students. The Northern Territory (NT)
Government provided the following information to the committee :
At the senior secondary level the NT is starting to see some
improvement for Indigenous students, but there is a long way to go. While the
percentage of 15-19 year olds in the NT population is around 40% only 31% of
the year 10-12 cohort attending school is Indigenous and only 14% of NT
[Certificate of Education] completers are Indigenous. Of these only 28% reside
in remote areas.
From a government service delivery point of view the
challenge of delivering quality services for this group is also the biggest
logistical and resourcing challenge.
Ms Jan Andrews of the South Australian Department of Education and
Children's Services provided the following information to the committee on the
provision of educational opportunities to Indigenous students in that state:
The experience of the education department here is as
follows. We effectively have residential accommodation, the Wiltja centre, for
Indigenous students coming to Adelaide for secondary school. We have three
regional hostels for secondary students. For Indigenous families in particular
that offers a great assurance. We also have culturally appropriate
housekeepers, minders and supports. That has, time and again, saved a young
Indigenous person and put them into another year of study in the
Mr Frank Italiano of the Western Australian Catholic Education Office
discussed with the committee the problems caused by the low literacy levels of
Indigenous students in remote communities:
We have evidence that the literacy levels are very low, so
trying to provide secondary courses for those students is difficult because,
perhaps, literacy levels for a person in year 9 or year 10 would be at the year
4 level...it is generally in the remote Indigenous communities.
Secondary school principals in far north Queensland detailed for the
committee the disparity in the number of Indigenous students continuing to university,
compared with the broader school population:
In [Charters Towers] we have an Indigenous population of
about eight per cent and in my school it is about 30 per cent. About one
student per year will go on to university, so it is not very many. There are
lots of reasons around that. Some are not eligible to go to university, but
leaving home is a big thing for our Indigenous students. We find that they
really do not want to leave their home.
...Last year we had one Indigenous student who went on to
university out of six who were in that year 12 cohort. Basically one-third of
the mainstream students were eligible to go on to university. There is a
significant disadvantage for Indigenous students there as well as the
disadvantage of the number being retained from grade 10 through to grades 11
However, the committee also heard some positive initiatives in relation
to educational opportunities for Indigenous students. Mr Ernest Christie of the
Townsville Catholic Education Office spoke to the committee about Indigenous
communities sending students to schools where the students could learn skills
that are of value to the community:
Each of those communities had different reasons for wanting
to send their students to the school. It was not just one size fits all.
In the Torres Strait, for example, they do not grow any
vegetables. They wanted their boys to learn how to grow vegetables
hydroponically, so they were attracted to the rural setting of Abergowrie
College. In Charters Towers and Hope Vale, they have a real tradition of
working with cattle and on cattle properties, so that community would send
their kids to Columba Catholic College because it has animal husbandry in
cattle, veterinary work in cattle and the Cattle Club. Often the schools would
build their own capacity to service those students. The curricula they offered
served the community.
The schools have excellent retention rates and also offer valuable
pastoral care support to the students:
We have Indigenous staff. We employ people from those
communities, who also work with the kids in the boarding capacity. That is so
essential. The schools have built transition houses so that families can come
down if the kids are homesick, can stay on campus and can work with those kids
through those difficult times. Again, it is all at a cost, but it is improving
their chances of success.
The committee also heard from Mr Dale Murray of Edmund Rice Education
Australia about the outreach program that organisation is currently running in
Mount Isa. Next year Edmund Rice Education Australia will establish a flexible
learning centre in Mount Isa, catering for Indigenous students:
We are currently aware of about 75 to 80 young people in
Mount Isa who are probably in the middle school age, are all Indigenous and are
not in school. They are the ones we know of. We are also aware of a range of
another 50 or 60 kids heading toward the senior phase of learning not being at
school and not having been at school for a fairly long time. How we know that
is we have an outreach running there at the moment. We are knocking on doors in
the morning, picking kids up, taking them to a site and working with them.
Their brothers and sisters are running out, saying, 'We want to come to
school.' We are saying, 'No, you’re too little.'
Over the last couple of years we have been working mainly
with the education department in the Isa and the Kalkadoon nation to develop a
response there. As fate would have it, the Mount Isa Christian College closed
and it became available for purchase. Edmund Rice Education Australia bought
it...Now we have to refurbish it. This leads into some of the questions. Staffing
it is complicated, as you would be aware; as soon as you step outside of the
metropolitan areas, it is complicated, particularly around incentives for staff
and particularly in places like mining communities, where rent is
extraordinary. For us to buy facilities to house people is complicated, so we
have to work out how we do that.
We have been lucky with our staffing arrangements, though,
because we are quite specialist in the nature of the work that we do, so we are
getting more and more people who have a sense of dissatisfaction with the
mainstream classroom environments and are looking for something different.
The committee notes that the Australian Government has in place measures
aimed at addressing the disparity in educational outcomes for Indigenous
students and these will be discussed in the next section of the report.
The barriers to secondary school students in rural and regional areas
accessing educational opportunities are numerous and complex. They are matters
that are not solved only through money – money is not enough to retain teachers
in rural and regional communities and money is not enough to make a student
aspire to further education.
Sometimes, money can provide opportunities – students can travel to
metropolitan areas to boarding school, to revision courses to universities for
extension activities. The committee recognises that some families are willing
to pay for their children to have access to these opportunities, but those
opportunities obviously come at a cost – not only in financial terms, but in
terms of time and in terms of effort for both the student and their family.
However, there are still many people in rural and regional areas who also want
their children to access these opportunities, but can not afford to pay.
The committee is particularly concerned at the disadvantages faced by
Indigenous students. As the committee heard, these students face some of the
biggest hurdles in accessing education, particularly once they have become
disengaged from mainstream schooling. The committee recognises the importance
of outreach and flexible learning projects, such as those run by Edmund Rice
Education Australia, which centre on a social-inclusion agenda.
The committee is concerned at what it sees is a growing disparity in
educational opportunities between rural and regional, and metropolitan areas. A
situation where those who have the option, chose to leave rural and regional
areas – a choice which, while beneficial for the students and families
involved, reemphasises the disparity to those who remain.
The committee notes the grim picture painted by Mr Gary Downsborough,
Principal of Broome Senior High School and representative of the Australian
Secondary Principals' Association, of how education systems in these areas can
There is little support to tackle inherent problems such as
the high percentage of inexperienced teachers, the lack of local professional
development for staff, few relief teachers, high staff changeover in schools,
low expectations and goals of parents for their children, lack of vocational
pathways within the area where the students live and rumours and negative press
affecting attitudes. Students in high socio-economic groups go away for
schooling, hence poor students have to be integrated into the classrooms and
there are no centres or alternatives in a lot of these places for
The committee shares the vision of Professor John Pegg of the SiMERR
National Centre of rural and regional education:
...we want parents to be able to send their children to rural
schools and not feel that they are giving them second best. We want kids to go
to rural schools and get the same sorts of marks that they would get if they
lived in Sydney, and we want teachers to be in rural areas and not feel
The committee recognises that governments, communities and other
organisations are all taking steps to address this issue. Some of those steps
are positive for example, the establishment of outreach programs that
universities and TAFEs are developing to connect with secondary school
students. Some of the initiatives that the committee were told about are making
great progress only to fail through a lack of long-term planning. The committee
notes the fate of the Quickstart program in a remote school, in which students
made great leaps forward in literacy and numeracy, and then was not run the
next year because of an entire change of staff in the school. The committee
sees this as an opportunity lost.
The committee is not in a position to put forward any solutions to these
issues. The nature of this inquiry has been awareness-raising. From the limited
time that the committee has had, it is of the view that the barriers to
secondary education at a rural and regional level requires a comprehensive and
systematic investigation, in the style of the recent Review of Australian
Higher Education. The focus of that inquiry should be how to establish a
long-term strategy to address the inequity in secondary educational
opportunities in rural and regional Australia.
2.100 The committee recommends that the Australian Government commission an
investigation into the barriers to rural and regional secondary educational
opportunities with a view to developing a long-term strategy to address the
inequity in secondary educational opportunities in rural and regional Australia.
2.101 In developing a long-term strategy to address the inequity in secondary
education opportunities in rural and regional Australia, the committee
recommends that consideration should be given to strategies for ensuring that
literacy and numeracy programs, once introduced into schools, are able to be
maintained within those schools.
Government measures to provide for rural and regional students
National Youth Compact
Through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), States and
Territories have established a 'Compact with Young Australians'. Part of the
Compact with Young Australians is the introduction of a National Youth
Participation Requirement to ensure that all young people complete Year 10 and
participate in education, training, employment or a combination of these
activities until the age of 17. The Compact with Young Australians entitles all
Australians under the age of 25 to an education or training place.
This section of the report discusses funding available for schools as
well as students to assist them to access educational opportunities.
Funding for secondary education in
rural and regional areas
The Australian Government has a number of funding initiatives which
provide institutional funding to rural and regional areas.
Non-government schools receive a remoteness loading on their per capita
recurrent grant funding if they have students studying at eligible locations.
The funding is provided in recognition of the higher cost of delivering
education services in regional and remote regions of Australia and the negative
impacts that this can have on student achievement levels.
Non-government schools or campuses classified as 'Moderately
Accessible', 'Remote' or 'Very Remote' receive an additional five per cent, 10
per cent or 20 per cent respectively of the funding entitlement associated with
their socio-economic status score. In 2008, 439 non-government schools received
the loading, across 469 campus locations.
Country Areas Program
The Country Areas Program (CAP) also provides assistance to rural and
geographically isolated students at non-government schools to cover the
additional costs associated with schooling from geographically isolated areas.
In 2008, 1,413 government, Catholic and independent schools received CAP funding
of $30.5 million for 5,586 projects.
State and Territory educational authorities determine their own
eligibility criteria and priorities for disbursing CAP funds to individual
schools. Funding cannot be used as substitute funding for resources and
services but may be used as supplementary funding for:
- curriculum enhancement (eg excursions, music and attendance at
information and communication technology;
- professional development;
- school support; and
- purchase of tangible items.
Drought Assistance for Schools
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations' (the
Department) submission notes the 'Drought Assistance for Schools' Program,
which is designed to benefit students and was introduced in recognition of the
impact of years of drought on farming families.
In 2007-08 a total of $24,000,030 in funding was delivered to 3,030
government and non-government schools in rural and remote locations across
Australia. In 2008-09, 2,318 government and non-government schools received
$17,417,170 in funding. In 2009-10, approximately $25 million is available
under the program:
The funding is intended to make it easier for rural families
to meet ongoing education expenses and the cost of educational activities such
as student excursions which may be cost prohibitive for families experiencing
financial hardship as a result of prolonged drought.
Assistance for the Northern
The Australian Government provides specific assistance to students in
the Northern Territory in an ongoing effort to close the educational gap. That
- The School Nutrition Program which delivers breakfast and lunch
to school aged children.
- The investment of $11.2 million over one year for teacher
accommodation to address housing shortage and to increase teacher employment
The Department's submission also highlights $5 million in funding to the
Wadeye community for additional teacher housing, and $7 million in funding
under the Building the Education Revolution funding for 15 additional
classrooms in schools servicing remote communities in the Northern Territory.
Programs aimed at raising
A representative of the Department explained to the committee during the
hearings the initiatives that the Australian Government has put in place to
raise the aspirations of low socioeconomic (SES) status students to attend
...there is a new program worth approximately $400 million in
support of the participation of low-SES students at university. One element of
that is what we call the participation and partnerships program. That will be
allocated to universities to engage in what we call outreach activities, which
will enable universities to engage with schools in various sorts of activities
designed to raise aspirations among students to go to university. It is
anticipated that we will have guidelines for that program coming out fairly
The Department's submission also outlines specific programs designed to
engage and support students to complete secondary education:
the Local Community Partnerships initiative established to
support young people from 13 to 19 years of age to achieve a successful
transition through school and from school to further education, training and
- Youth Pathways targeted at young people aged 13 to 19 who are the
most at risk of not making a successful transition through school and from
school to further education, training and employment. The program is aimed at
reducing the number of early school leavers who are not employed or in
education in the 12 months after leaving school.
- Connections which provides a full-time education and personal
development program for young people aged 13 to 19 who are disconnected from
Ms Kimberlee Ryan of the Victorian Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development indicated that raising aspirations and engaging students
in education is a challenge for all governments:
...there would not be a jurisdiction in the world that does not
face that challenge of lifting the aspirations of students, particularly in
disadvantaged areas, to stay engaged in education and training and transition
to meaningful employment and further learning. So we are working on that from a
systems point of view in terms of the whole school improvement agenda here,
really building teacher capacity to engage students more effectively,
broadening curriculum options and pathways available to students and wrapping
around a broad student engagement and welfare framework around that work to
keep kids able to engage in different contexts for education and training...all
of our efforts in our school improvement agenda and our blueprint are aiming at
that retention and engagement of students as far as they can go.
The Department's submission outlines a number of initiatives that
Australian governments, through COAG, have put in place to 'transform schools
and schooling for teachers, students and the community'.
These initiatives include The National Partnerships to address disadvantage in
low SES school communities and the National Education Agreement. Under the
auspices of these programs, the Australian Government has committed more than
$47.7 billion in funding for both government and non-government schools to:
- attract, train, place, develop and retain quality teachers and
school leaders and support schools to run as professional organisations working
with their community;
ensure students have access to a national curriculum;
raise parental and community expectations of educational
introduce transparent and more robust accountability to improve
student performance by providing parents with clear information on how their
child is progressing at school and how they compare with others in their
community and across Australia;
- support teaching and learning in schools through appropriate
- review funding and regulation across government and
non-government school sectors; and
- provide support to students with additional needs.
The Department’s submission also highlighted work being done through the
following programs which may assist schools, students and families in remote,
rural and regional areas:
- Building the Education Revolution program,
- the Australian Government’s Capital Grants program,
- The Le@rning Federation,
- Improving the Practical Component of Teacher Education Program
- The National Secondary Schools Computer Fund.
The Department's submission also notes $577.4 million in funding for the
National Action Plan on Literacy and Numeracy. $540 million of this
funding has been allocated to the Smarter Schools: National Partnership on
Literacy and Numeracy to ensure an increased focus and commitment to
improving the literacy and numeracy outcomes of students. Initial funding for
the National Partnership on Literacy and Numeracy is being used for
literacy and numeracy pilot initiatives which are trialling or expanding on
initiatives to lift the literacy and numeracy performance of students in
The committee notes that these initiatives are not specific to rural and
regional students, however they may benefit rural and regional students.
Funding for secondary students
required to live away from home
The Department's submission outlined some of the funding available for
secondary students who are required to live away from home for secondary study.
Students aged 16 years and over may receive youth allowance or ABSTUDY
to study away from home for Years 11 and 12 and for vocational education and
There is also the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme (AIC), which
provides allowances to geographically isolated families with primary, secondary
and certain tertiary students who cannot attend an appropriate state school on
a daily basis because of geographic isolation.
The AIC has several allowance types which are tailored to assist a range
of education options for isolated families. In 2009, the basic rate of the AIC
Boarding Allowance is $6,824. In addition, the AIC Additional Boarding
Allowance ($2,261 in 2009) is available. The AIC Additional Boarding Allowance
is specifically targeted at lower income families whose geographically isolated
children board away from home to access schooling.
Other AIC payment types are:
- the second home allowance where a family maintains a second home
so that student can attend school daily. In 2009, the second home allowance is
$198.80 per fortnight, per student, up to a maximum of three students in a
the distance education allowance of $3,412 per year, and the
distance education allowance supplement of $1,045 per year, which assists
families whose children live at home and study via distance education.
In 2008, 11,212 students received AIC allowances at a cost of $62 million.
Of these students, 2,031 received the AIC Additional Boarding Allowance.
State Governments also offer allowances which may supplement the AIC
The Western Australian Government offers the Student Boarding Away
from Home Allowance to families with students who do not have reasonable
daily access to an appropriate primary and/or secondary school and are required
to board away from home. The allowance of $2,000 supplements the AIC and students
who are eligible for the AIC are automatically eligible for the Student
Boarding Away from Home Allowance. The Student Boarding Away from Home
Allowance is also available to families receiving the AIC who have set up a
second home. In 2008, there were 2,142 applications for the Student Boarding
Away from Home Allowance, with a total of $2.36 million provided to parents
and boarding providers.
The Western Australian Government has also established boarding facilities
adjacent to public senior high schools in nine regional areas. The full cost of
the boarding service, provided by the Country High School Hostels Authority, is
$16,750 per student. The Western Australian Government subsidies this cost,
with the net cost per student in 2009 being $9,430. For students receiving
ABSTUDY, the full cost of this boarding service is met by the Australian
Government. For a student receiving AIC and the Student Boarding Away from
Home Allowance, the net cost of boarding in 2009 is $606.
The Northern Territory Government offers assistance for students who are
boarding through the Student Assistance and Supplementary Boarding Allowance
Schemes, which is designed to complement the AIC. It provides some travel
assistance and supplementations of costs of boarding, but not for students
already receiving similar subsidies under ABSTUDY.
The Bush Children's Education Foundation of NSW (BCEF) also noted that
the NSW Government offers a Living Away from Home Allowance. The
allowance is valued at a basic rate of $1,227 per year, with a Year 11/12
supplement of $288.
The NSW Government also offers a Boarding Scholarship for Isolated
Students, valued at $4,100 for 2009. The Boarding Scholarship for
Isolated Students was established to assist students from rural
areas who are disadvantaged by a low family income and geographic isolation.
Adequacy of government assistance
The Isolated Children's Parents' Association of Australia (ICPA) notes
the average cost of boarding and tuition fees for secondary students is between
$25,000 and $30,000 per year. The ICPA note that the basic AIC boarding
allowance rate has not kept pace with boarding fee increases:
The Assistance for Isolated Children (AIC) Basic Boarding
Allowance (2009) is $6,824 per annum. Generating sufficient income to meet
education expenses is extremely difficult for families. As the AIC Additional
Boarding Allowance is linked to a Parental Income Test, many rural and remote
families are not eligible, because the Parental Income Test (2009) is $32,800
at the lower limit, and this figure is unrealistic in relation to wages/salary
earned. AIC provides warranted support but the payments have not kept pace with
boarding fee increases, which regularly exceed the [consumer price index).
The BCEF informed the committee that traditionally students have had
access to school-term hostels, linked to local high schools, where boarding
fees range from around $6,500-$8,800 per annum. These boarding fees are
manageable for families who are eligible for the AIC and NSW Government's Living
Away from Home Allowance. However, the BCEF noted that there has been a
decline in the hostel system are only two remaining hostels in regional NSW, in
Broken Hill and Dubbo, and both are full to capacity in 2009.
The BCEF stated that in these circumstance many families were then
limited to considering boarding schools in rural and regional areas, where fees
for tuition and boarding ranged from $8,592 (for an agricultural high school)
to $29,860 (for a non-government boarding school).
The BCEF also noted in its submission that boarding fees and tuition for
metropolitan boarding schools could be around $43,152, and for most students is
prohibitive before any reductions or allowances are considered.
The BCEF made the following observation on the adequacy of government
assistance for rural and regional students who are required to live away from
home for secondary school:
For some students the annual boarding fees could be offset by
a maximum combined [Australian and NSW] government assistance allowance of $10,660.
While it covers the cost of boarding fees in hostels and Agricultural High
Schools, it does not cover other hidden expenses such as elective subjects,
laundry, sports uniforms, school [organised] week-end travel, excursions,
visiting performers. Given that there is an unwritten expectation that parents
contribute notionally towards their child's secondary 'board & keep' (estimate
of $100 p/w) it would be assumed that the AIC and the [Living Away from
Home] allowances are adequate to more than adequate.
However, the BCEF go on to note that access to the hostel and government
boarding schools where lower fee structures apply is extremely limited.
Therefore, BCEF advocate for a number of measures, including:
- an increase in the AIC for isolated families who have been
rejected for a place at a government boarding school or hostel and must enrol
at a non-government school where tuition fees apply;
- raising the value of the AIC and the NSW Government Living
away from home allowance to reflect more adequately the 'extras' that
parents are required to pay; and
raising the combined family income threshold to $60,000.
Both the ICPA and the BCEF noted inconsistencies between the state and
Australian Government assistance schemes:
The overlap of Federal and State Government responsibilities
pertaining to education creates disorder. Inequities between states, in regard
to accessing an appropriate education with financial assistance, are being
caused by state education authority's definitions of an appropriate school
under the Assistance for Isolated Children (AIC) scheme. ICPA has lobbied the
Federal Government...to revise the AIC guidelines, to enable a child to access an
education by receiving the AIC allowance when a school, within the context of a
rural or remote community, cannot meet the educational needs appropriate to
Bypassing of Local Schools.
One issue raised with the committee in terms of accessing additional
funding for rural and regional students living away from home, was the
'bypassing' of local schools. Mr Colin Pettit of the WA Department of Education
and Training explained to the committee how bypassing operated in that state:
To receive both [the Western Australian government student
boarding away from home allowance, approximately $2,000, and the AIC] the
school within their community has to be deemed not able to provide a sound
education program for their students...if you are a hundred kilometres away in a
small district high school with only 10 students, we cannot provide you with
best possible education so we will offer that as a bypass, and if you are
offered a bypass then you are eligible for these two subsidies.
The committee was informed that in Queensland the bypassing of the local
school requires community consultation. This can lead to community conflicts
between those who want the school to be bypassed, and those who do not:
Those living in towns in Central Western Queensland are not
able to access the same allowances as those out of town unless the whole
community has agreed that their local school is a 'bypass' school. Whole of
community meetings involving the local schools are held when a community
expresses a desire to become a bypass school...
There are arguments for and against bypassing as providing
allowances for people living in towns allows them choice IF the local school
does not suit their real (not perceived) needs e.g. if there is a bullying
issue, or their child is gifted and talented and not being catered for locally.
But, if bypassing became an easy option it may severely detract from resourcing
of the local school (which is based on numbers).
There are many families who cannot afford the extra costs (on
top of the allowances) required to pay the full cost of sending a child away to
boarding school and need to and or WISH to attend their local school.
The issue of bypassing is one fraught with danger for rural
and remote areas, as a decision to bypass, by a community, may have negative
impacts on the local schools resourcing, in turn reducing the quality on offer
and also creating a two tiered community.
The committee received evidence that the requirement for bypassing of
the local school could also impact on gifted and talented students being able
to access educational opportunities in metropolitan areas. Mrs Roxanne
Morrissey of the ICPA gave this example of a gifted and talented student:
They have these wonderful programs here in WA, scholarships
for gifted and talented children. There is a source of accommodation, but there
is only that one source. If you live in a regional area and you qualify for a
gifted and talented program - for instance, if you live nearer to Port Hedland
and your child qualified for a music program at Perth Modern School here - you
would not qualify for any assistance to actually move to Perth to be able to do
that program, because you have a high school in your area. It does not matter
that it does not offer a music program as such; the fact is it is deemed an
appropriate school so, therefore, you do not qualify for the assistance for
isolated children allowance.
The WA Department of Education and Training provided the following
explanation of its policy in relation to gifted and talented students and the
bypassing of local schools:
We do it case by case, and they are not all accommodated. We
need to be very clear there. Particularly with gifted and talented children -
that is something that we will put to the inquiry- perhaps that is something
that the federal government might need to have a look at. It is deemed that we
can provide the gifted and talented children from country locations with
support up to year 10 through isolated and distance education - so through
electronic means. However, some of the parents are indicating that that is not
as fulfilling for these students as is needed. Because of the rules between the
state and federal levels, we have not actually moved too far on that. Once that
child reaches year 11, they automatically qualify and will be given access to
these programs, because the quality of the program they need, particularly at
year 11, is far superior to what others need, so we just have to make sure that
we provide them with that opportunity.
They committee notes the evidence that it has received in relation to
the adequacy of the financial assistance available through the AIC and
associated State and Territory allowances. The committee notes that the
concerns in relation to the adequacy of the AIC is mainly in relation to
boarding school fees. The prices of government hostels appear to be set at a
level which, with the assistance of the AIC and any State government
supplement, are affordable.
The committee believes that the costs incurred by families in accessing
secondary educational opportunities, belies the larger problem of families
feeling the need to send children away to school because of the lack of
educational opportunities in rural and regional areas.
The committee recognises that sending students to boarding schools will
be a matter of necessity for a small number of families because of geographical
isolation. For a small number of families the decision to send children to
boarding school is a matter of preference, based on factors other than cost,
such a family tradition of attending a particular school. For the vast majority
of families however, the decision to send children to boarding schools is one
they feel forced into making because of the limited opportunities at local
As the committee noted above, these choices that families are forced to
make, have a flow on effect to the community they live in. When students leave
a regional area, it results in lost opportunities and resources for local
schools with flow-on effects to the wider community.
The committee's view is that the solution to this issue does not lie in
necessarily increasing the value of the AIC, but in providing families with a real
alternative to sending their children away to school. However, providing
families with real alternatives to sending their children away to school is not
an issue that can be resolved in the short-term.
2.147 The committee recommends that as part of the investigation into the
barriers to rural and regional secondary educational opportunities with a view
to developing a long-term strategy to address the inequity in secondary
educational opportunities in rural and regional Australia, consideration should
be given to whether the current level of funding under the AIC Scheme is
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